Manner of Speaking

Podium vs. Lectern

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No, today’s post is not about a new sci-fi movie. Rather, it’s about the distinction between two mainstays of public speaking: the podium and the lectern.

A podium (pl. podiums or podia) is the raised platform on which the speaker stands to deliver his or her speech. “Podium” is derived from the Greek word πόδι (pothi) which means “foot”. The word “podiatrist” (foot doctor) comes from the same source.

A lectern is a raised, slanted stand on which a speaker can place his or her notes. “Lectern” is derived from the Latin word lectus, the past participle of the verb legere, which means “to read”. The word “lecture” comes from the same source.

There are tabletop lecterns and there are standalone lecterns. They come in all sizes.

Small

Photo courtesy of Nathan Colquhoun (nathancolquhoun / Flickr)

Medium

Photo courtesy of Andrew Feinberg (Andrew Feinberg / Flickr)

Large

Photo courtesy of Jeff Hitchcock (Arbron / Flickr)

It is important to make the distinction between a lectern and a podium. And yet, many people say “podium” when they are actually referring to a lectern. (Conversely, I have never heard anyone say “lectern” when referring to a podium.)

Some might say that I am just quibbling over semantics. But suppose you’re giving a speech. You phone the event organizer and ask if there will be a “podium” when you actually mean a lectern. If the organizer is not on the same (incorrect) wavelength and says “No”, you might end up needlessly scrambling to find your own lectern. If the organizer says says “Yes”, you might arrive to find a real podium but no lectern.

To summarize: You stand at or behind the lectern; you stand on the podium.

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